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How to achieve exponential improvement as a thinker

How to achieve exponential improvement as a thinker | THINKERS Notebook
Becoming a better thinker is not a final status that you reach.

It's not an end goal.

It's not a destination.

Becoming a better thinker is a process of building and practicing habits that facilitate clearer, more critical, and more creative thinking, with the ultimate goal of making more optimal decisions that lead to desired outcomes.

It's about systems. It's about consistency. It's about discipline. 

And while it can sometimes be difficult to maintain our motivation on a journey that we recognize has no end, the issue there is more with the metaphor than the underlying idea.

Instead of thinking about your commitment to becoming a better thinker as a journey with no end, think of it simply as an ongoing path toward whatever better outcomes are important to you.

The path keeps going (guided by your habits and systems), the improved outcomes keep coming at an ever-increasing rate, and you get more comfortable and confident with each passing step. 

What accounts for these continual improvements the longer you stay on your path of better thinking? 

The power of compounding. 

Because it turns out that our habits -- be they good or bad habits -- don't just build on each other day after day, they actually compound on each other. In other words, the impact accelerates and strengthens over time.

James Clear explains this concept in his book Atomic Habits.

"Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent."

Apply this to the way you think.
  • What could happen if you took 10 minutes each day with a pen and a piece of paper to explore whatever idea is on your mind?
  • How valuable of a personal resource could you build if you actually had a process for capturing and organizing your ideas for easy recall in the future?
  • What positive chain reactions might you start if you committed to sharing at least one idea every week with someone whose opinion you trust? 

These are all positive, proven habits for better thinking. There is value in doing them once, or intermittently.

But when habits like these are performed consistently, their value grows exponentially thanks to the impact of compounding.

It's not always easy to stick with good habits day after day after day. Life gets in the way. Distractions pop up. Motivations ebb and flow.

Why not skip one day? What is really being lost?

These are the moments when remembering the power of compounding can really help. 

When you view any habit within the larger context of the person it's helping you become and the better outcomes it is guiding you toward, it's easier to remember why each instance of performing the habit matters.

Sometimes there is value in simply not breaking the chain.

"Success is the product of daily habits--not one-in-a-lifetime transformations. If you want to predict where you'll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line. Are you spending less than you earn each month? Are you making it into the gym each week? Are you reading books and learning something new each day? Tiny battles like these are the ones that will define your future self."

Are you putting the power of compounding to work for you when it comes to your thinking?

In this week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three articles that reinforce the impact of compounding when it comes to personal habits.

Apply these lessons to your thinking, and there's no telling how much exponential growth you can experience in the future.  

First, a quick note about next week's new webinar inside the THINKERS Workshop ...


This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


Today at 3:00 p.m. ET, Sean Jackson and I will be talking to Brian Schultz -- CEO of Studio Movie Grill. 

Brian is going to join us to share his thoughts on how to think clearly and make good decisions during a crisis. He has a lot of recent experience in this area, helping to navigate his company through an expansion during the COVID-19 shutdown and enduring impact.

Click here to RSVP and get the Zoom link. (Or to check for the replay if the live event has already occurred.)
Now on to this week's links ...

Habits don't need to be "big" to lead to big results over time


If you make changes that are small and easy to do, and layer them on top of each other, like units in a fundamental system, you can get powerful results.

Watch: Why habits are the "compound interest" of self-improvement (James Clear on CBS Good Morning)

You build the identity of the person you want to become with habits


A few weeks after my first three attempts to surf, I went to happy hour at a bar in La Jolla. The guy sitting next to me had been a long time surfer who gave me a simple piece of advice that made the difference between me quitting and becoming a surfer. He told me to go 50 times because by that point I’d be too invested to quit.

While he didn’t state it explicitly, he understood that every surf session would have a compounding effect. It took more than 15 sessions before I stood up on a wave. Eventually, I worked my way down from the Costco Wavestorm to riding a 6-foot shortboard and found myself surfing at a skill level that seemed impossible when I started. I had a similar experience with snowboarding. After two seasons and close to 30 days on the mountain, I got to a point where I was able to get down a black diamond.

The progress we experience from the compounding effect of any habit isn’t immediately visible. As a result, people give up quickly. They don’t realize that every day the show up they’re building momentum. They are moving closer and closer to a breakthrough or inflection point.

Read: Habits are the Compound Interest of Self Improvement (Srinivas Rao)

Cultivate discipline and track consistently to achieve results


Most people give up on their goals and fail to achieve their aspirations because they don’t see immediate results. They interpret this to mean they can’t do it or it was a bad goal in the first place and then give up.

On the other hand, those who do manage to succeed in their long-term goals believe that results tend to only show up late in the game. Consequently, they’re able to stay motivated and committed through the long, tough middle.

That idea on its own is the stuff of mediocre self-help books. Where The Compound Effect really shines is the detailed explanation of how exactly to cultivate a belief that persistence pays off.

Ultimately, this comes down to a commitment to small, smart decisions performed on a regular basis. Over time, these decisions compound into effective habits and routines, the true drivers of discipline, confidence, and ultimately, success.
Quote(s) of the week

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

-- James Clear, Atomic Habits

3 Urgent Takeaways on the Importance of Humility

3 Urgent Takeaways on the Importance of Humility | THINKERS Notebook
On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of hosting a webinar inside of the THINKERS Workshop with Ed Hess, author of the book Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age.

I read this book for the first time a few years ago and it immediately impacted my thinking. Revisiting it this month in such a different context has led to a wave of useful new insights.

The most significant of those insights it the ever-increasing urgency of Ed's prescription that we cultivate more humility.

We've known for a while how the Smart Machine Age will impact the economy and the types of "NewSmart" skills (like critical thinking and collaboration) that will be required to succeed moving forward. 

But what has become even more crystal clear since the book was originally published in 2017 is how important humility is for engaging in civil and productive conversations -- the likes of which seem fewer and further between in so many online and offline channels.

How are we supposed to navigate a landscape of information overload, media bias, and extreme opinions seemingly all around us? There are no easy answers, but the ones that bear fruit will all have humility at their core.

For this reason, and so many others, I recommend that you read Ed's book.

Remember: even if you think you're already doing pretty well in the humility department, the best way to prove that's actually true is to recognize how much you can still learn about the subject. ;-)

I also recommend that you check out my recent conversation with Ed.

Normally this would be only be for THINKERS Workshop members, but we are unlocking it for one week so that all THINKERS Roundup subscribers can have access to it.

Here's how to access the replay:

And once you check it out, I'd love to know what your takeaways are. Seriously, please come back here and reply to this email. I get a real kick out of the email exchanges I have with subscribers like you.

Here are my three biggest takeaways from the time I got to spend talking with Ed:

1. The only path to lasting change is understanding why you want to change.

We live in a society that often pays lip service to the value of humility, but that doesn't back it up with the kinds of incentives, systems, and policies that make cultivating humility second nature.

This can make developing behaviors that are driven by humility a challenge, because changing long-term thought processes and habits is difficult.

Which is why understanding the why behind our desire to change is so important.

If we don't understand why we want to change -- or why we need to change -- then we're likely to revert back to familiar, comfortable habits at the first signs of struggle.

But with our why top of mind, we're more likely to fight through struggles and do the difficult but attainable work of rewiring our brain in positive ways.

2. Survival and legacy are powerful motivators.

If you're trying to figure out what kind of why might be powerful enough to help drive you toward positive change and overcome the obstacles along the way, consider these two: 

  • Survival
  • Legacy

These are especially powerful motivators for older people who are at a more advanced stage of their career.

How do you fit into the future of your team, company, or industry? What worked before may not work moving forward, and what was valued before may not be valued moving forward. You may need to be more intentional about developing humility just to survive.

What meaning are you creating with your time? Are you creating a positive impact on people? Are you building something that will last beyond you? Pride and ego can drive us toward personal achievement and wealth accumulation, but lasting legacies are built with humility.

And speaking of pride and ego ...

3. To cultivate more humility, we must transform what we take pride in.

There's a reason why "Quieting Ego" is the first of Ed's NewSmart behaviors. Our ego is what compels us to fear mistakes, attach our identify to our ideas, and favor competition over collaboration.

This can cause us to take too much pride in being right, succumb to damaging cognitive biases, and struggle to work in teams.

But we can get better -- and it's not about completely rejecting or ignoring pride or silencing our ego; instead, it's about calming our ego and intentionally taking pride in different things.

  • What if we took pride in how many mistakes we made?
  • What if we took pride in how good we became at reflective listening?
  • What if we took more pride in our team's collective accomplishments than simply our individual contributions?

If we start doing this, we're actually taking pride in our humility. We're getting two seemingly opposing forces moving in the same direction.

Now that's powerful.


So ... those are my three takeaways. What are yours? Let me know after you watch the video.

Below, you'll find three links to articles Ed has written on this topic and others. He's an insightful, generous man with so much to share. I greatly appreciate him joining us this week, and I hope you learn as much from him as I have.

First, a quick note about next week's new webinar inside the THINKERS Workshop ...

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


If you haven't registered for our upcoming webinar with Brian Schultz, the CEO of Studio Movie Grill, now is the time to do it.

Brian is going to join us to share his thoughts on how to think clearly and make good decisions during a crisis. He has a lot of recent experience in this area, helping to navigate his company through an expansion during the COVID-19 shutdown and enduring impact.

This webinar will take place on Friday, June 26th at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Click here to RSVP and get the Zoom link.
Now on to this week's links ...

How to adapt ... so you don't get left behind.


What will be needed in the digital age is a work environment of Psychological Safety that enables an Idea Meritocracy evidenced by candor, challenging the status quo, data-driven decision-making, permission to speak freely, rapid experimentation, hyper-learning and allowance to make learning mistakes within financial parameters.

The goal is the highest levels of human cognitive and emotional performance. That requires the right mindsets, behaviors and processes.

How people talk to each other, how people listen, how people emotionally connect, how people manage their thinking and emotions, and how people collaborate are all examples of the granular nature of daily behavioral focus that will be required in the coming age of smart technology and the digital revolution.

Read: The Digital Age Requires a New Way of Working (UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)

The U.S. will need humility on a national scale to recover from the current pandemic. 


The U.S., as a country, has a history of overcoming major social and political challenges. COVID-19 is such a challenge. It is what it is. And it can be accepted with a realistic mindset and a commitment/movement to create the next evolutionary stage of humanity, enabled by technology with the appropriate human protections.

The new normal will be the evolution of human beings and society enabled by technology. The direction of that evolution, in the U.S., will be either optimizing the values this country has aspired to or the continued march toward a society characterized by divisiveness and inequality of: opportunity, income, health care, education and societal upward social mobility.

Read: COVID-19 Will Accelerate a 'New Normal': Continuous Adaptation (UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)

What if you organized an event outside of work to encourage sharing?


Studies show that the highest levels of human performance occur in small teams in which all members have a common purpose and values, deeply care about each other as unique human beings, have compassion for each other and trust each other. Trusting each other means believing that no one on the team will do you harm and that everyone is totally invested in each other’s personal development and success.

People who come to virtual team meetings in a negative emotional state (stressed, anxious, fearful, worried, etc.) are not in the emotional state that will enable high-quality positive emotional connections with others.

It is the team leader’s responsibility to create that positive emotional environment in virtual team meetings. 

Read: Leading Virtually is Emotional (UVA Darden: Ideas to Action)
Quote(s) of the week

“Real knowledge is knowing the extent of one's ignorance."

-- Confucius

"I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance."

-- Socrates

You don't need to change the world

You don't need to change the world | THINKERS Notebook
Last week, I wrote about a particular source of anxiety known as Headline Stress Disorder.

It seems like one of those things that should be so simple to avoid or combat, yet it still has a way of sneaking up and snatching our peace of mind away -- especially in our ever-connected culture.

As I spent more time this week ruminating on Headline Stress Disorder while also, ironically, trying to stay up with the headlines ...

I had an epiphany of sorts.

I realized that one of the reasons I feel overwhelmed and anxious as the concerning headlines pile up is because I naturally feel powerless to affect change on the circumstances underlying most of the troubling headlines.

  • I'm not a healthcare worker or policy maker, so how can I make a difference with COVID-19?
  • I'm not a historian, community organizer, or politician, so how can I impact the discussion about race and equality?
  • I'm not a political strategist, pollster, or campaign worker, so how can I impact elections or the election process?

And on and on, applied to different times and different situations.

Right now, it just feels like there are so many big, consequential national discussions going on, and it's easy to feel more at the mercy of these discussions than an active participant in them.

Do you ever feel like that?

A 2017 study at Concordia University found that "the fear of losing control" can play an important role in the onset of a host of anxiety disorders:

"We hypothesize that people's fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and others."

Granted, I don't want to overstate the issue. We shouldn't conflate mild anxiety from the news, real as it may be, with potentially serious conditions like panic disorder and PTSD.

But I sure would like to reduce any of my own anxiety as much as possible, and I have no doubts you feel the same.

Fortunately, my epiphany had a second part ...

While I realized that anxiety can flow from a feeling of powerlessness to change the world, the real problem is framing it like that in the first place.

I don't need to change the world. I can't change the world. And that's okay.

What I can change is my world. 

And if we distill the news through that prism, and in the process figure out ways to take relevant actions, then our anxiety about the news will melt away -- because now we're back in control.

  • We can wear a mask and stay committed to social distancing to set a positive example.
  • We can study issues of racial inequality and help to share and amplify informed voices on the subject.
  • We can donate to campaigns, contact our congresspeople, and make sure we stay informed and vote.

And on an on.

We may not be able to change the world, but I can impact our worlds.

Another way that we all can impact our worlds is by contributing our time to think and share thoughtful ideas.

To be clear: I'm not saying that everyone should jump on social media and spout out every half-baked idea that pops into their head.

But what I am saying is that we each have a unique set of personal experiences, perspectives, knowledge, and values that we bring to any situation or topic. And we also time, energy, and enthusiasm that we can lend to any cause that concerns or motivates us.

So we should not underestimate the value of setting aside time to think and develop ideas during difficult times.

  • Can you summarize some relevant element of history that will educate the people in your circle of influence?
  • Can you sift through the morass of resources available on any topic to curate a list of trusted resources people can trust?
  • Can you develop a strategy or plan of action for how your family or team can address a disruption or change of path?

No, you may not be working on a presidential address or developing a policy that will affect millions, but you will be making an impact on the circle of people you have the ability to influence ...

If, that is, you're willing to take one very important next step:

Share your ideas.

Not only will sharing your ideas impact those you share with and spawn important conversations, but the interaction with others' thoughts and perspectives will help you refine and strengthen your ideas further.

This is how you make a difference in your corner of the world.

And right now, it feels like we need as many people with this mindset as possible.

The more you feel like an agent for positive change even among a small group of people, the less you'll feel like an impotent spectator as the world plays out around you. 

In this week's THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three links about how being willing to share your ideas can help you become a much-needed agent for change.

First, here is a quick roundup from inside the THINKERS Workshop ...

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


If you haven't registered for our upcoming webinar with Brian Schultz, the CEO of Studio Movie Grill, now is the time to do it.

Brian is going to join us to share his thoughts on how to think clearly and make good decisions during a crisis. He has a lot of recent experience in this area, helping to navigate his company through an expansion during the COVID-19 shutdown and enduring impact.

We also launched a new video series. It's called I Am A THINKER, and will feature members of the THINKERS Workshop community providing their perspectives and best practices on how to become a better thinker.

Our first subject: THINKERS founder Sean Jackson.
Now on to this week's links ...

Sharing can benefit you as much as those you share with


The key to make your life really unique and worthwhile is to share what you know, because sharing has a certain unique magic of its own.

If you share an idea with 10 different people, they get to hear it once and you get to hear it 10 times—getting you even better prepared for the future. Share ideas with your family, with the people around you, with other employees, with your colleagues.

If you share with someone else, they could be transformed. You may have dropped in at the right time—this may be their moment, the moment the door will open and there’s opportunity they never saw before.

Related: How Do You Attract Opportunity Into Your Life?

But here’s what else is exciting: The person who speaks could be transformed, too. Because guess what, we’re all looking for transformation for our new life—the new life tomorrow, this month, this year, next year.

Read: Rohn: The Power of Sharing What You Know (Success)

Sharing at work helps all boats rise together


One person can never have an idea that’s perfect. By sharing my ideas at work I am exposed to a side I may have never thought of before. New and better things come out of sharing ideas with others.

Think about a subject matter expert who doesn’t make their knowledge available to others unless forced and then it’s a one way road. They spew information as others record it.

This way of working never lets you connect your ideas with others and improve upon both ideas. There’s no way one brain can think of every angle, so everybody has to cooperate and work together to reach a common larger goal. The human race is a cooperative race and its allowed us to do great things.

Sitting on an idea like you own it has never helped anybody meet a greater goal.

Read: What Sharing Ideas At Work Does For Us (Nick Leffler)

What if you organized an event outside of work to encourage sharing?


What follows is a blueprint for how to push yourself, and how to encourage and enable others around you to do this by organising a “Show Your Work” event in your company or community.

The colleagues you spend so much time with every single day — do you actually know about all the amazing and weird things they’re creating in their free time? Even in the best companies with great working cultures, things get busy. We end up spending most of our time talking about work-related problems. Or, not talking at all.

Not only do we end up having fairly shallow relations with most of our colleagues, but creativity and inspiration often fall short as well.
Quote of the week

“I believe that the greatest crime is to learn something that can significantly benefit other people, yet share it with no one"

-- Mike Pettigrew